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Look Out For Signs of Attitude in Recruits

As Seen In The Australian:

IN an ideal world, all candidates who apply for jobs would come complete with CVs advertising years of experience and aptitude, with an attitude to match.

But as the talent squeeze tightens its grip across Australia, employers may have to start compromising by hiring candidates on the basis of attitude and passion for their chosen industry, whose skills can be upgraded on the job.

Of course, there is a basic level of aptitude required for jobs, but skill comes with experience, while a valuable attitude is not necessarily something that can be taught. Jason Murray, CEO of Rookie Recruits, believes that, especially in the face of a talent crisis, employers should be more open to hiring on the basis of attitude rather than experience.

“In an ideal world you’d get candidates who have a great attitude and the necessary skills and experience, but typically when the job market is tight, employers are forced to compromise on one or the other. Either find someone with an absolutely awesome attitude, but only six, 12 or 18 months’ experience, or insist on three to five years’ experience and perhaps compromise on the attitude of the candidate,” says Murray. “What we find is that companies that we work with get significantly better results by hiring for attitude and [teaching] the skill.”

Although defining an individual’s attitude to life and work may seem less tangible than defining skill and experience, Murray says that by asking the right questions and talking directly to the applicants, he can formulate a clear idea of how that person would operate in the workplace.

“Defining what we call an ‘absolutely awesome attitude’ in a candidate is something we’ve worked hard to finesse,” he says. “Traditionally, recruiters or employers screen resumes and then only speak to the people who have the relevant skills and experience. We actually flip that on its head and we speak to about 90 per cent of people who apply to us, because in a three to five minute conversation with somebody, you can get a sense of their attitude. We ask clever questions that give us an insight into the candidate. If they’re excited about life, passionate about their career and they’re busting to kick down the door and have a go, that comes through on the phone. It’s not only about identifying people who are outgoing — some have a quiet, reserved confidence but [they] have what we call the ‘core four’: they’re ambitious, hardworking and determined to develop and grow. We believe that if we can find the right slot for them in terms of [an] employer that values them and likes their natural talent, they’re set for success.”

While finding a balance of attitude and aptitude is important, a candidate with the right attitude and willingness to learn can be a tremendous investment for a company even if their experience is less than required. Murray has found through successful placements of such candidates that those who have that drive are willing to try harder to fill the gaps in their experience.

“Look at discretionary effort, which comes from a desire to want to do more than you’re being paid for. If you’ve been in a role for three to five years and you’re moving just because you want a few extra dollars or you’re bored of the company you’re at, are you really going to give it everything you’ve got to really get ahead and push hard and be noticed? Certainly, I think the willingness, the wanting, the desire to do more means that less experienced candidates will often work harder and push themselves further than a more experienced candidate,” says Murray.

“In an ideal world, show me you’ve done it all before, give me a brilliant attitude and I’ll hire you every time. You find candidates like that when there’s 10, 12 or 15 per cent unemployment. When we’re as close as we are to full employment, those candidates often don’t turn up. If employers keep insisting on three to five years’ experience and they won’t compromise, what they’ll find themselves with eventually is empty seats.”

Murray says hiring for attitude over experience can be an excellent investment for small businesses, where close working relationships with senior management, having a buddy system and sitting in on meetings makes it easier to bring a less experienced candidate up to speed.

“Many small businesses can’t afford to pay 30 to 40 per cent above market rate to somebody with the attitude and the experience that they’d ideally like. Considering someone with less experience means they may end up spending a bit of extra time and energy, but it doesn’t need to be money, it doesn’t need to be formal skills training. Most roles can be learnt pretty quickly if you’re immersed in the role eight hours a day, 40 hours a week.

“Some of the big organisations are talking about how [one] of the biggest limiting factors to growth is that they can’t find the people to fill the roles. I would suggest that they’re looking in the wrong places. They need to recalibrate their mindsets and think about bringing in people with a little bit less experience and bring them up to speed relatively quickly. I think companies are really missing a trick by insisting on three to five years’ experience when there is a huge amount of brilliant talent with a year or two [of] experience, who really want to get in there and prove themselves.”

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CASE STUDY
PEOPLE SKILLS A BIG ADVANTAGE

RICK Williams, CEO of IT company Platform XXIV, finds that attitude, drive and determination pay dividends during recruitment.

“In a customer facing role, it’s really important to hire someone [who] can engage with the customer and that has a bit of personality. For me, that’s critical.

“In any industry there’s a base level in terms of the skills required for any role you’re interviewing for, but for me, it’s really important to have someone who’s good with people,” says Williams.

“Hiring someone who is perhaps less experienced but has the right attitude can be a fantastic investment because generally what happens is that you get someone who is very keen to improve their skills very quickly. They’re prepared to do extra work in their own time in order to fill in any weaknesses.

“In my industry, people have a lot of skills already and interest in the industry anyway, but often the rookies get pigeonholed into . . . roles they don’t necessarily want. What happens is they get to a ceiling very quickly and there’s nowhere else for them to go.

“What I have found with my employee is that he’s really hungry to get out there and develop his skills, get some new skill sets and learn and challenge himself, and he’s been fantastic doing that. That’s something about generation Y and Z.

“They are fast moving, especially in picking up technology. They’re the technology generation, really. They’re able to adapt very quickly.”
Cecily-Anna Bennett

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